Sandra is a medical herbalist, medical anthropologist, and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Your health: Find out more about medical herbalist Sandra Clair

Sandra Clair. Photo / Doug Sherring
Sandra Clair. Photo / Doug Sherring

Hi Sandra - I was wondering if you could share some more information on your background as a medical herbalist? It sounds so interesting! What kind of qualifications do you have?

Thanks, Sarah

Hi Sarah, thanks for your question. Yes, traditional medicine has certainly made for an interesting and varied career and one I feel very fortunate to have.

I grew up in Switzerland where natural healthcare is a living tradition and a normal part of modern medicine. It's not unusual for your family doctor to prescribe plant medicine, and pharmacies are stocked with both natural and pharmaceutical treatments. Natural medicine has always been, and continues to be, popular among the Swiss.

My own path to becoming a Medical Herbalist is unique in that it combined a traditional apprenticeship with scientific study. For 3 years I studied under a renowned Swiss herbalist, midwife and nun who passed down to me the ancient art of collecting, harvesting and preparing plant medicines.

I learned clinical skills in the community practice where we administered the medicines prepared from locally harvested plants we gathered in the foothills of the Swiss Alps.

Further to that I undertook formal training in health sciences and herbal medicine from universities in both Australia and New Zealand. To gain a qualification in herbal medicine, practitioners undergo extensive training in the philosophies, principles and practice of herbal medicine, as well as the fundamentals of medical science, including anatomy and physiology, pathophysiology (the cause of disease), differential diagnosis, pharmacodynamics (what the plants do to our bodies) and pharmacokinetics (what our bodies do with the plants).

Most herbalists will agree that the study of plant medicine is contagious and becomes a life-long passion. I am no exception, currently deepening my knowledge with a doctoral thesis at the University of Canterbury exploring the practical relevance of traditional plant knowledge for today's evidence-based practice.

Both parts of my training - the scientific and the practical apprenticeship - are essential for modern herbalists, however it was the time in the Swiss Alps learning from my mentor Sister Pauline that has enriched my career the most. This period of my life was the inspiration behind Artemis, the company I founded in 1998 to ensure traditional plant medicine is kept alive and available for all to benefit from.

For more information about the practice of herbal medicine in New Zealand and a complete list of registered practitioners, visit the New Zealand Association of Medical Herbalists website.

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Sandra is a medical herbalist, medical anthropologist, and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Sandra Clair is the founder of Artemis ( offering New Zealanders a premium range of traditional plant medicine products. She is one of New Zealand’s most highly qualified health professionals in her field, as a Swiss trained medical herbalist and a medical anthropologist (M.A.). Sandra is currently completing a PhD in health science at the University of Canterbury in collaboration with the Chair for Natural Medicine of the University of Zürich, Switzerland.

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